Saturday, September 14, 2013

80. Odessey and Oracle (1968) The Zombies




  1. Care of Cell 44
  2. A Rose for Emily
  3. Maybe After He's Gone
  4. Beechwood Park
  5. Brief Candles
  6. Hung Up on a Dream
  7. Changes
  8. I Want Her, She Wants Me
  9. This Will Be Our Year
  10. Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)
  11. Friends of Mine
  12. Time of the Season


Perhaps the Beatles were magic after all. Maybe their extraordinary success was contagious in some way and actually rubbed off on things they came into contact with (it's certainly the only way to explain Yoko Ono's baffling musical career).

If this is true then it's logical The Zombies were the lucky recipients of some Beatles magic. The Odessey and Oracle was not only recorded in Abbey Road but engineered by Geoff Emerick who engineered the later Beatles albums assisted by fellow Beatles recording veteran Peter Vince.

Beatle magic was in the air and resulted in a recording that is revered and loved as a musical classic. Shame nobody liked it at the time.

When it originally came out in 1968 nobody was interested in an album of psychedelic tunes with a strange name by a band with an even stranger title. Zombies weren't cool back in 1968 and the band weren't either. The record didn't do much and the recording process was enough to break up the band who didn't tour in support. It didn't sell enough copies on its initial release to make the UK charts and it peaked at number 95 in the US. In every respect it was a bit of a flop.

The album was re-released when The Time Of The Season became a hit single the following year and sold more respectably but it's always hard to promote an album when the band itself has gone their separate ways. In the decades since it first appeared, Odessey and Oracle has enjoyed a heightened reputation and frequently appears in lists like this. It's viewed as not just one of the great albums of the era but as one of the great releases of all time. All of which makes a lot of sense.

Back in 1968 the album still wasn't the artform that we think of it today. Sgt Peppers and other Beatles releases were raising its reputation but singles were still king and the album was still a way of packaging hit singles with filler. Today we understand an album as the pinnacle of an artist's expression. It's the greatest and most noble form a musician can adopt with groups like Radiohead ignoring the single format altogether and focusing all their attention on the album form.

Odessey and Oracle was literally ahead of its time. It's an album of coherent thought and message at a time when LP's needed to be full of hits to be big sellers. They needed big stand-alone songs to sell units and had to have a few stand out tracks for anyone to care. O and O has a lone big hit which at the time just wasn't enough. It didn't matter that the rest of the album was a collection of strong songs which got better with repeated listens, it wasn't relevant that it worked as a unified whole and nobody cared that it seemed to have a coherent and interesting vision. All anyone cared about was the fact that they picked it up and saw a tracklisting made up of songs they'd never heard on the radio.

O and O's reputation increased at the same rate that the album as an artform increased in esteem. People started to appreciate it and revere it as rock grew up and grew into the concept of a long player and eventually a CD. It will be interesting to see how it's viewed now that we seem to be moving away from the album and into a bold new digital territory where songs are king again.

If you want to know what the music on Odessey and Oracle sounds like without having to actually hear it then take a good look at the cover because it's the perfect visual depiction of the sounds inside. It's densely filled with colour and movement and the words are a bit hard to make out but it leaves you with an overwhelming sense of flowers and naked people and hippieness and drug-taking excess.

O and O's current tragedy is the blatant over saturation of its hit single as a tired sixties cliche. For years whenever film makers have wanted to aurally depict the summer of love and the hippie era they've turned to Time of the Season to do it. All the bigger hits were too expensive to use but Time is cheap and so it's become a weary and tedious cliche which is a pity because it's a great song that deserves more than to have its chorus lifted as a thirty second soundtrack to pictures of hippies dancing at Woodstock.

If you've never heard the Odessey and the Oracle then give it a try. It's psychadelic and trippy but perfectly accessible. It doesn't have songs that leap out at you on a first listen but appreciate the whole thing as the self-contained work of art that it is and enjoy it.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "With so many people calling this the most underrated album of the 60s it is actually becoming the most overrated album of the 60s."

-That's a very astute observation.

So is this the best kept secret of the sixties or does it obscurity richly deserved? Let me know below.

2 comments:

  1. Great album, How many great albums came out between 1967 & 1972 ? So far those years make up the most albums from any year. What were they taking to make such music ? Can anyone tell me.

    ReplyDelete